Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Are you addicted to work?

When I was growing up, my dad sometimes worked three jobs in order to make ends meet. I remember my Mom working most of my life, including the times she took in extra ironing. But I never remember my parents doing their jobs at home. Their bosses didn't call them at home, their co-workers didn't stop by the house to drop off work and they never even talked about their jobs much, except to tell funny stories about customers or maybe gripe a bit about the boss.

Boy, have things changed. We all seem to be connected more than ever to our jobs. Because of cell phones, pagers and e-mails, our jobs never seem to be more than a heartbeat away.

Who hasn't witnessed the guy on his Blackberry at his kid's baseball game? Or the woman who can't get off her cell phone while dining with her family or friends? And, what about the e-mail that arrives at 3 a.m.?

When I interviewed Tom Stern about his book, "CEO Dad," he was quite serious for being such a funny guy. He didn't shy away from admitting that he thrived on work, and got a "high" from being a bigshot business guy. But,as we all know can happen, life smacked him upside the head. He faced a series of personal traumas that finally made him take a hard look at his life and his priorities.

It used to be so easy for me to turn on my phone's answering machine and close my office door at a certain time. But now, with this 24/7 world we live in, I find it much harder. It's like I'm afraid if I don't keep up with what's going on, I'll somehow fall behind. And, who knows when that next great opportunity will come along? What if I miss it?

And then, I try to stop what I'm doing and ask myself this question: "What is the most important thing going on right now?" On one hand, I have e-mail to check and phone messages to return. On the other hand, my family wants to play Frisbee in the backyard or watch "Sandlot" for the 10th time. Thankfully, I still have the inner strength to turn on the answering machine and close the office door. The day I can't do that anymore is the day I know I've gone to the dark side.

So, while I have found a way to balance my work and family life, have you? One way to tell may be if you answer "yes" to three or more of these 20 questions from Workaholics Anonymous (

1. Do you get more excited about your work than about family or anything else?
2. Are there times when you can charge through your work and other times when you can't?
3. Do you take work with you to bed? On weekends? On vacation?
4. Is work the activity you like to do best and talk about most?
5. Do you work more than 40 hours a week?
6. Do you turn your hobbies into money-making ventures?
7. Do you take complete responsbility for the outcome of your work efforts?
8. Have your family or friends give up expecting you on time?
9. Do you take on extra work because you are concerned that it won't otherwise get done?
10. Do you underestimate how long a project will take and then rush to complete it?
11. Do you believe that it is OK to work long hours if you love what you're doing?
12. Do you get impatient with people who have other priorities besides work?
13. Are you afraid that if you don't work hard you will lose your job or be a failure?
14. Is the future a constant worry for you even when things are going very well?
15. Do you do things energetically and competitively including play?
16. Do you get irritated when people ask you to stop doing your work in order to do something else?
17. Have your long hours hurt your family or other relationships?
18. Do you think about your work while driving, falling asleep or when others are talking?
19. Do you work or read during meals?
20. Do you believe that more money will solve the other problems in your life?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Job sharing challenges

In covering the workplace for more than 15 years, I've heard plenty of companies talk about how they have a "family friendly" environment and programs in place to help employees achieve "work/life" balance.
I've also read lots of nice feature stories in various publications that have named employers to their "best" lists regarding companies that support employees in achieving this balance between their personal and professional lives.
Unfortunately, I don't think we're hearing the whole story.
Too many employees have told me that while their companies have these programs on the books, in reality they feel little support for achieving a work/life balance. Their managers, they tell me, still pressure them to put their personal lives behind their professional dutues, regardless of the circumstances. These workers believe that if they don't sacrifice their personal lives, then they will be hurt professionally, losing out on pay upgrades, promotions or top projects.
In my interview with Kelly Watson of Career Partners, she told me that her company recruits executive women who want to job share. She says that by acting as a sort of traffic cop, her company makes sure these job sharing arrangements can work by supporting women (and men) throughout the process. As she notes: "Bosses feel that if you're serious, you stay at your desk."
Job sharing is an arrangement that appeals to a lot of employees. Workers who have aging parents, baby boomers who are nearing retirment and want to cut back and parents who need to juggle child and work needs are attracted to the idea.
And while Watson's company may be a solid step toward helping employers and employees achieve a work/life balance, the sad reality is that many workers who need that support the most-- lower income or single wage earners -- continue to struggle to cope with increasing work and family demands in this 24/7 environment.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Bully at Work

I remember being the target of a bully when I was in elementary school. I remember everything about the girl...her name, how she used to catch me on the playground when I was jumping rope and make her nasty comments to me.

I can recall with equal clarity the time I was bullied on the job. I remember the continual stress of facing the man every day, the pitying looks from co-workers, the fact that I eventually left the job because I couldn't stand it any more.

Pamela Lutgen-Sandvick, an assistant professor of communication at the University of New Mexico and an expert on workplace bullying, says my recollections and feelings about being bullied are typical of others who have had similar experiences.
"It can remain really fresh in a person's mind for a long, long time," she says. "It's something you don't forget."

Further, she notes that workplace bullying is difficult to cope with "because our identities are inextricably linked to what we do," and bullies are striking at the heart of who we believe ourselves to be.

In her study of workplace bullying, Lutgen-Sandvick found that while bullying can take place anywhere, certain professions seem to have more incidents of the behavior. Included: government/public administration, health care and high-end restaurants.

According to research, both men and women can be bullies. “Bullying is a silent epidemic that affects one in six workers,” says Gary Namie, a workplace-bullying expert. “It is witnessed by nearly 80 percent of workers who don’t do anything about it. It’s a dirty little secret.”

Who is most likely to become the target of a bully? Namie says targets often have a strong sense of equity, justice and integrity and a very strong belief in what they believe to be right and wrong. Bullies are the opposite – they feel inadequate even though they strut around like peacocks. They are secretly intimidated by the target’s intelligence, creativity and confidence. In order to deal with what they perceive to be a threat, bullies begin spreading rumors and innuendo about the target and may try to sabotage work.

As Namie says, bullies often target the most talented in the workplace because “the dolts don’t threaten anybody.”

That’s why if you’re talented and creative and have been bullied once, chances are good it could happen again.

“The targets of bullies often are people who are strong and independent and talented and believe they can tough it out,” Namie says. “But once the bullying starts, most can only stay 16.5 months because it costs them their health.”

What are some behaviors that may prompt a bully to make you a target? Research shows that making statements where you put yourself down such as, “I’m bad with computers – I’m so dumb,” or “You guys should just go on without me because I’m no help and I’ll just slow you down,” put a bully on alert. At the same time, behaviors that may betray a lack of confidence such as talking too slow, (which allows a bully to interrupt) or too fast (betraying nervousness), also attract a bully’s notice.

The non-verbal cues also play a role: Bullies look for those who don’t walk confidently with head held high, or those who fail to use gestures to emphasize a point as if they’re afraid to call attention to themselves. Bullies also will test you by invading your personal space and seeing whether you put them back in their place.

Namie adds that bullies also are lazy and look for easy marks. That’s why they often will try their intimidation on new employees because they know the vulnerabilities that go along with being the new kid on the block. Still, research shows that some 75 percent of the workforce does not tolerate being controlled by another person, and a bully will back off when resistance is shown – even if it’s a new employee.

If you become the target of a bully, Namie says you should:
• Stop listening to the bully’s lies and verbal assaults. You did nothing wrong and don’t need to feel ashamed.
• Break through your fears. Even if you do it for only one week, it’s better to confront your worst fear and stand up to the bully. Procrastination only makes the problem worse.
• Assert your right to be treated with respect regardless of who you are and where you rank.
• Demand respect directly from the bully whenever you interact. You owe it to yourself.
• Document the bully’s misconduct. Report him/her to anyone who will listen. Break the silence.
• Rally witnesses and co-workers to help defend you, to shame the cowardly bully-tyrant.

Bullying – whether it happens when we’re kids or when we’re adults – can be very difficult. If you need help coping, don’t hesitate to ask for professional help. Your company’s employee assistance program (EAP) can offer resources, as well as community mental health organizations. Also, check out for more strategies and information.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Welcome to the "On the Job" blog

Welcome, everyone, to this blog about issues in the workplace. It is a natural offshoot of my nationally syndicated workplace column “On the Job” for Gannett News Service and USA

I’ve always believed that knowledge is power, and we’ve all got something to share that can help others. Have a co-worker who is getting on your last nerve? Tell about it and then let others share how they confronted a similar problem and dealt effectively with it. Want to ask for a raise but don’t know how to do it? We’ll try and give you the skills you need to successfully bring home some extra bacon. Need some advice to recover from losing a job? There are plenty of folks who have been in your shoes and we’ll be there to keep you going until that next great opportunity comes along.

I think we’ll have plenty of lively discussions, lots of ideas and opinions about work today and how we can best do our jobs. I’ll write about different topics from time to time, as I believe my most important task is to keep you armed with information that will help you earn more money, be more successful, be more satisfied and lose weight (OK, so maybe not that).